USA v Honduras: five things we learned
时间：2019-09-15 责任编辑：宰父恕 来源：澳门美高梅国际 - 注册即送~ 点击：84 次
Right now, the US is edging Mexico
The balance of power in Concacaf has tended to edge back and forward between the US and Mexico over the last 20 years, with Mexico generally held to be in the ascendancy – owing primarily to the superiority of their domestic league and the emphasis on youth development, which bore fruit with last year's stunning Olympic win.
This year, though, has been an ugly one for El Tri. They've struggled through the Hex phase of qualifying, and since the USA's symbolic win in the Azteca last summer, that stadium has hardly been the fortress of yore. The only surprise about their opening loss to Panama in the Gold Cup group stages was that it wasn't that big a surprise. Even after steadying and going through to the knockout stages, they were pushed all the way by Trinidad and Tobago, before being found wanting yet again by Panama in the semi-finals, as the Panamanians reached their first final since 2005 and ended any hope of a Mexican threepeat over the US.
And while Fifa rankings that regularly assert England as world-beaters need always be taken with a pinch of salt, the fact that the US overtook Mexico in the rankings felt about right as an assessment of where both squads are – regardless of the skewing of the stats caused by largely B teams playing in the Gold Cup. Whether they stay there through next year is perhaps not down so much to the US, who are playing as well as could be expected, but how much ground a floundering Mexico can make up with the talent at their disposal.
Certainly expect a very awkward inquest for José Manuel 'Chepo' de la Torre on his return to Mexico. Being pelted with cups, as he was after the first Panama loss, may be the least of his worries. There was doubt about him keeping his job even had Mexico retained the Gold Cup. The chances of him being on the sidelines in Brazil look very slim indeed.
Can we now regard Honduras part I as a blip?
It all seems so long ago now — the opening game of the Hex in , where the US went down to a defeat that prompted a spiral of soul-searching that reached its nadir just before the infamous Costa Rica snow game. At that point the prospect of a 10-game winning streak for this side looked remote indeed, and the Klinsmann project was being subjected to critical scrutiny and off-the-record briefings to journalists that suggested all was far from well.
Not so, insisted Klinsmann this week, calling the first game against Honduras "a blip" on what had otherwise been a steadily upward trajectory over the past two years. The US won the return in a tight game in Utah last month, and on Wednesday night they blew past the Hondurans in imperious style, suggesting there was substance to Klinsmann's claims.
The latter game of course was a game largely between players who may be on the fringes of their national teams' first XI (though the incumbent Graham Zusi may have been exhaling particularly hard while watching Landon Donovan's displays in this Gold Cup). And while it seems prudent to take some of the best and worst performances of the national team as outliers when considering where they truly stand, the improvement of those depth players since the particularly awful game against Canada in MLS pre-season is a definite marker for progress.
The passing is crisper, the understanding greater, and perhaps most impressively the midfield personnel are able to be rotated without a noticeable loss of fluidity. Beckerman, Holden and Diskerud have all played their part at the base of the midfield, while Bedoya came in for Corona against Honduras and had one of his best games for the US. The ability to change pace and spring defenses is night and day, as both the first two goals against Honduras perfectly illustrated.
That idea of players not just as stopgaps, but as active and serviceable depth with an individual understanding of their role and responsibility in the system, is where we can fairly talk about real progress in the US team. It doesn't make the world-beaters, but it does mean that compared to just six months ago, or even some of their turgid midfield slogs of 2012, they are certainly a team.
Goodson makes a case for himself
The consensus at the end of the most recent round of World Cup qualifiers was that the first choice center-back pairing was now Gonzalez and Besler, after the latter had played his way into contention at the start of the year and apparently solved one of the longstanding questions over Klinsmann's selection choices. And when Klinsmann exercised his right to exchange four squad players after the group stages, it was perhaps no surprise to see those two brought in to the squad, presumably to slot straight into the side.
Perhaps surprisingly though, only one of those players went into the team – and it wasn't the (barely) more experienced Gonzalez, but the more thoughtful Besler who has stepped in. The other center-back role has been filled by Clarence Goodson, who followed up his first international goal in two years against Guatemala in the tune-up game for the tournament, with the opener against El Salvador in the quarter final – in both cases showing an unlikely predator's instincts in the box.
He kept his place against Honduras and continued another trait of recent performances – looking up and trying to get the ball forward quickly.
It's precisely what Klinsmann wants from his team, and precisely what they've lacked during the formative part of his reign – players willing to play the percentages and trust that possession per se means less than the number of chances created by forward movement. Goodson has been doing his chances of being one of the four central defenders for Brazil no harm at all.
Eddie Johnson has put down a marker
It's not exactly "watch the throne" – maybe more "watch the third or fourth in line for the throne", but Klinsmann must be delighted at the heating up of competition for striker spots in his squad. First of all it was Chris Wondolowski who responded to his heels being held to the fire by Jack McInerney's MLS form and inclusion in the Gold Cup squad, by opening his international account with a flurry of goals at the start of this tournament, to keep the young pretender in his place.
And then when Eddie Johnson was called into the squad after the group stage, he too wasted no time in sending a message to Wondolowski in turn. Jogging onto the field and heading a goal within seconds to better the efforts of the man he'd replaced was one thing, but having duly claimed the starting spot for the semi-final, Johnson quickly sent another finish with his burst through on goal and emphatic finish to open the scoring.
The goal was more than just one that gave the US an early lead – it was a sickener for Honduras. They'd already come out playing with their instinctive conservatism – dropping deep to counter US balls over the top and hoping to spring on the counter to snatch a goal to defend.
Johnson's goal confirmed their worst fears about what the game might bring and saw them sink deeper and deeper in the wake of the goal, to the extent that the US defensive midfielders were able to have potshots from near the edge of the box, and the Honduran attack looked negligible.
It's possible that Wondolowski would have taken that goal, though when he did eventually come on to the field with a two goal cushion in place, it was hard to escape the feeling that that was about the right order of things – a now proven poacher, with the ability to constantly move and occupy defenses so that they can't commit to helping chase the game, replacing a man more likely to get goals for this team against stronger opposition.
Jurgen Klinsmann's English is a million times better than my German, and he speaks as he asks his teams to play – without fear.
And as Clint Dempsey can testify, occasionally he has harsh words for his own players, though usually within the frame of expecting the absolute best from them. Even after Donovan's standout performances in this tournament Klinsmann was keen to emphasize that he expected more, and had told the player as much:
Your benchmark is the best Landon Donovan ever. I'm not taking anything less than that — and he's trying to catch up with that.
It's the kind of statement that looks harsher in transcript than it does when delivered in Klinsmann's usual affable manner, where even the most critical comments are delivered with indulgent chuckles.
With his self-deprecating interview persona it's easy to forget sometimes that Klinsmann is a fierce competitor, though we got a glimpse of it against Honduras when a furious Klinsmann was ejected after vehemently protesting a foul on Beasley just in front of his technical area. The coach should have known better given the whimsical nature of concacaf refereeing — indeed his outburst had been prompted by it — but after the game he was back to his even self in apologizing ("I just kind of overboiled it").
Under Concacaf Gold Cup rules there isn't an automatic suspension for Klinsmann for the final, and it's possible he will be allowed to take his seat on the bench, depending on the results of a disciplinary enquiry. If he isn't on hand however, this will be an interesting test for the cohesion of the team and possibly an unwelcome distraction from what's been an absolute procession of a tournament so far.
But if Klinsmann's claims about the steady upward trajectory of the team are correct, and if the level of understanding is truly what the Gold Cup performances have suggested it is at, then it might perhaps be intriguing to watch this side on autopilot for one game.